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Donald McKayle opens his memory bank

July 06, 2010

Chat with Donald McKayle about legendary dance figures and gossipy tidbits emerge:

Martha Graham: "I toured Asia in Martha's company [1955-56], the last time she danced overseas. She was a creative force, but equally a tyrant. Paul Taylor was dancing on that tour and we'd go to some reception and Martha would give a grand, supposedly impromptu speech of thanks to the hosts, but we'd heard the same thing at the last city we'd stopped in — Paul would be over in the corner, rolling his eyes."

Rudolph Nureyev: "A huge ego and very difficult if he chose to be. On 'The Ed Sullivan Show" where I did some work he and [legendary partner] Margot Fonteyn were to appear, but he wouldn't rehearse on the floor — 'I won't dance on that! Too hard' — so they built him a new one and then he put his nose in the air and said, 'No. I shall now have lunch.' But such a talent! After he defected [from the Soviet Union in 1961], I saw him in Paris and he could soar. Once he exited through a hole in the scenery, he just sailed away, right off the stage."

Sammy Davis Jr.: "I choreographed him in the Broadway musical version of 'Golden Boy' [both Davis and McKayle received Tony nominations]. He drank and smoked nonstop during rehearsal … that curled lower lip of his came from having a cigarette stuck in there all the time. He complained to me that the $15,000 a week he was getting — and in 1964 dollars! — was hardly worth it for all the hard work versus what he could make in Las Vegas."

—Christopher Smith

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